Tag Archives: Amos Rusie

“The Twenty Greatest Fever”

2 Oct

In November of 1911, an interviewer asked industrialist Andrew Carnegie to name the 20 greatest men of all time.  Within days, Carnegie’s list was parsed and picked apart, and led to what The Chicago Daily News called “The twenty greatest fever.”

Lists of the twenty greatest everything appeared in papers across the country for the next year.  Of course, the question was put to many baseball figures and led to a number of interesting lists and quotes.

One of the first to weigh in was Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, in The Daily News:

  • Buck Ewing
  • King Kelly
  • Cap Anson
  • Charlie Ferguson
  • Fred Pfeffer
  • Eddie Collins
  • Honus Wagner
  • Jack Glasscock
  • Harry Lord
  • Ty Cobb
  • Fred Clarke
  • Willie Keeler
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Charles Radbourn
  • Bobby Caruthers
  • Christy Mathewson
  •  Clark Griffith
  • Ed Walsh
comiskeypix

Charles Comiskey

Comiskey said Eddie Collins, who would acquire for $50,000 three years later, was the best current player:

“He’s got it on all the others in the game today.  I don’t know that a good lawyer went to waste, but do know that a mighty good ballplayer was found when Eddie decided to give up the technicalities of Blackstone for the intricacies of baseball.   There isn’t much use saying anything about Connie Mack’s star, everybody knows he is a wonder as well as I do.”

Cy Young was asked by The Cleveland News to name his 20 greatest:

“I guess we’d have to make a place for old Amos Rusie, ‘Kid’ Nichols should be placed on the list too, ‘Kid’ forgot more baseball than 90 percent of us ever knew.  And there was Bill Hutchinson, just about one of the greatest that ever lived.  You can’t overlook Walter Johnson, and, by all means Ed Walsh must be there.  The same applies to Mathewson.  Then comes my old side partner, Bill Dinneen.  Bill never was given half enough credit.”

amosrusie

Amos Rusie

Young rounded out the battery:

“I’d pick old Lou Criger first of all the catchers.  George Gibson of the Pittsburgh team, to my way of thinking, stands with the leaders.  Give the third place to Oscar Stanage of Detroit, and I feel safe in saying that I have chosen a really great catcher.”

Young said:

“Doping out the infields is comparatively easy.  Without hesitation I would name Hal Chase, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Hans Wagner, Bobby Wallace, Jimmy Collins, Herman Long, and Charlie Wagner.”

Young said of his infield choices:

“You can’t get away from Bobby Wallace for a general all round gentlemanly player, he has never had a superior at shortstop unless that man was Honus Wagner.  Maybe Johnny Evers is entitles to consideration, but I never say him play.”

As for his outfielders, Young said:

“Ty Cobb’s equal never lived, according to my way of thinking, and I doubt if we will ever have his superior.  Say what they will about Cobb, but one who is true to himself must acknowledge his right to rank above all other players.

“I chose Cobb, Fred Clarke of Pittsburgh, Tris Speaker of Boston and Bill Lange for the outfield, and regret that the limitations prevent me from choosing Jim McAleer.  McAleer was the best fielder I have ever seen.  I say that with all due respect to Cobb and other competitors.

“Tris Speaker is a marvel, and only because of his playing at the same time as Cobb is he deprived of the honor of being the greatest outfielder…Many fans of today probably don’t remember Bill Lange.  Take my word for it, he was a marvel.  He could field, bat, and run bases with wonderful skill.  No man ever had the fade-away slide better than Lange.”

The reporter from The News noticed that Young had, “chosen his twenty greatest players without mentioning his own great deeds,” and asked Young whether her felt he belonged on the list.  Young said:

“Oh, I’ve heard a whole lot of stuff about myself as a player, but I was but ordinary when compared to the men I name as the greatest in the game.”

cy

Cy Young

When Ty Cobb presented his list of the 20 greatest current American League players to The Detroit News, the paper noted his “Very becoming modesty” in leaving himself off of his list.  Cobb’s picks were:

  • Ed Walsh
  • Bill Donovan
  • Walter Johnson
  • Jack Coombs
  • Vean Gregg
  • George Mullin
  • Billy Sullivan
  • Oscar Stanage
  • Ira Thomas
  • Hal Chase
  • Napoleon Lajoie
  • Eddie Collins
  • Jack Berry
  • Owen Bush
  • Frank Baker
  • Harry Lord
  • Sam Crawford
  • Clyde Milan
  • Joe Jackson
  • Tris Speaker
cobb

Ty Cobb

Cobb included Bobby Wallace, Russ Ford, and Heinie Wagner as honorable mentions.

More of the lists and quotes from “The twenty greatest fever,” on Thursday

“Baseball has Kept me so Happy”

27 Sep

Like every ballplayer of his era, Jim O’Rourke spent a lot of time in his 1910 interviews with Tip Wright of The United Press comparing the current game to his days on the diamond:

o'r

Jim O’Rourke

“They talk about their speed and curves these days, but the raise ball little (Candy) Cummings—he weighed only 115 pounds—used to throw is a lost art.

“The present day men can’t do it.  The nearest thing is a little upshot, which (Joe) McGinnity of Newark through last year.  You simply couldn’t hit Cummings’ raise ball squarely.  It was bound to climb the face of the bat, and the best you could get was a little pop-up.”

O’Rourke told Wright, “The greatest catcher I ever knew was ‘Buck’ Ewing,” of his former Giants teammate, he said:

“He led in batting, running, catching, fielding and base-stealing, and he could think quicker than any other man I ever saw in a game.”

As for pitchers:

Amos Rusie leads them all, and he promised to make  a record no pitcher in baseball, unless he were a genius could outdo; but poor old Amos disappeared!  I think Tim Keefe was a great curve pitcher, but for endurance I have to hand the laurels to Charles Radbourn, of the Providence Nationals.  In 1883, when his team was after the pennant, Radbourn pitched 72 games [sic 76] 37 of which were consecutive, and of the 37 games 28 were victories (Radbourn was 48-25, Providence finished third).

“If you ask me the difference between the pitchers of today and the pitchers of former days, I would say that the pitchers today have the cunningness not to go into a box oftener than once or twice a week, while the old timers used to think nothing of pitching six or seven games a week.”

radbourn

“Old Hoss” Radbourn

O’Rourke saved his greatest praise for his Boston Red Stockings teammate Ross Barnes.  He told Wright:

“Before telling you about Ross Barnes as a batter, I want to tell something about his work at second base…Barnes had long arms that he could snap like a whip.  His throws from second to the plate were the most beautiful I have ever seen.

“His speed was so tremendous that the ball did not seem to have any trajectory at all and it landed in the catcher’s hands at the same height it started from.”

O’Rourke said, Barnes was “even more wonderful,” at the plate:

“It was Barnes’ wonderful third base hits that caused the rule to be made that a ball, even if it struck within the diamond, must be declared a foul if it rolled outside the baseline…He had a trick of hitting the ball so it would smash on the ground near the plate just inside of the third base line, and then would mow the grass over the line (in foul territory)…No third baseman could get away from his position quickly enough to stop one of Barnes’ hits.”

barnestbhit

Barnes’ “third base hit”

O’Rourke mentioned two other “wonderful hitters” he saw “when a mere boy;” Dickey Pearce and Tom Barlow:

“I have seen these men with little short bats, which I believe were later ruled out of the game, make the wonderful bunt hits which we have taken to calling a modern institution.”

O’Rourke said both became “ordinary players” after they were no longer able to use the shorter bats, “not realizing that a bunt could be made with a long bat.”

And, like all old-timers, O’Rourke knew how to “fix” the modern game:

“The one big question in baseball today is how to make the game more interesting.”

O’Rourke advocated for removing the foul strike rule to increase hitting and wanted to “place the pitcher farther away from the plate.”

O’Rourke summed up his forty plus years in the game to Wright:

“Baseball has kept me so happy and healthy that there is not a minute of my past life I would not willingly live over.”

 

 

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking up Other Things #25

15 Aug

“Used to Come Upon Field Staggeringly Drunk”

Arthur Irwin was a scout for the New York Highlanders in 1912 when he declared to William A. Phelon of The Cincinnati Times-Star that, “Players who are hard drinkers in the big leagues are scarce now.”

irwin

Arthur Irwin

Irwin said a combination of “the improvement in morals” of players, and more so the fact that current players were “money mad” were the reason:

“Long ago the hail fellow and the good fellow, who believed that drinking was the jolliest part of life, were numerous in the big leagues, and there were surely some wonderful soaks in the profession.  Stars whose names will shine forever used to come upon the field staggering drunk, and other stars who had sense enough not to exhibit their follies in public would wait till the game was over and then tank up till dawn.”

Irwin told Phelon about King Kelly’s American Association team:

“The club that tried to play ball under King Kel in 1891 at Cincinnati was about the limit.  They made their headquarters at a saloon across the street from the ball park and some of them could be found asleep there at almost all hours when not actually in the game.  Some of the champion Chicago White Stockings and some of the old St. Louis Browns were likewise marvels on the jag, and it has become a baseball legend that the Browns defeated Anson’s men for the world’s championship (in 1886) because (John) Clarkson, Kelly and two or three others were beautifully corned.”

Clarkson won his first two starts of the series, but lost his next two.  Kelly hit just .208 in the series and St. Louis won four games to two.

Jennings’ Six Best

In 1916, Hughie Jennings “wrote” a short piece for the Wheeler syndicate that appeared in several papers across the country, about the six best pitchers he faced:

hughiejennings

Hughie Jennings

Jack Taylor and Nig Cuppy had fair speed and a fine curve ball, with the added advantage of a slow ball, and good control.  The latter, I contend is the most important asset a pitcher can possess.  My six greatest pitchers are:

Amos Rusie

Jack Taylor

Cy Seymour

Denton (Cy) Young

Charles “Kid” Nichols

Nig Cuppy

“Rusie, Nichols and Young had wonderful speed and fast breaking curves.  Cy Seymour also belonged to this case.”

“Batters Might as Well Hang up Their Sticks”

Add Ned Hanlon to the long list of prognosticators who were sure a rule change would be the death of the game—in this case, the decision in 1887 that abolished the rule allowing batters to call for high or low pitches.

hanlon

Ned Hanlon

 

According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

 “Hanlon of the Detroits says the abolition of the high and low ball was a fatal mistake, and the batters might as well hang up their sticks.  Ned argues that as the pitcher has the space between the knee and the shoulder in which to throw the ball, all he has got to do is vary the height of his delivery with every ball he pitches, and thus completely delude the batter.  He claims that pitchers capable of doing head work will have a picnic, and that Baldwin will be particularly successful.”

 

Lost Pictures: Matty’s Outcurve

29 Jun

mattyoutcurve

The Washington Evening Star’s pitching tips for kids, 1912:

“Boys, it’s almost a cinch most of you have an idea that you will be a second Amos Rusie when you grow up. Maybe you if you stick to pitching practice. Any boy can throw curves if he will practice.

But before you start, here are a few things to remember:

Practice as often as you can.

Strive to get control.

Don’t overdo yourself.

Take good care of your arm.

Change your delivery until you get a style that does not make your arm sore.

Abandon every unnecessary motion that will give the base runner a big start.

An outcurve is the easiest of all. You can see in the picture just how Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants grasps the ball for an ‘out.’

The picture was taken just as the ball was ready to leave his hand. Notice the palm is upward. The ball shoots out between the first finger and thumb. The curve depends upon the rotary motion given. Be sure you do not hold the ball too tightly. This will prevent it getting the necessary rotary motion. You can start it underhand or overhand.

After you are sure you have the right grasp, practice. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t see the curve the first day. If you keep at it, you are sure to learn.”

“It is a Pure, Clean, Wholesome Game”

20 Apr

Billy Sunday took time out from saving souls in the Pacific Northwest in 1909, to talk baseball with a reporter from The Washington Post sent to cover the evangelist’s month-long revival in Spokane:

“I wouldn’t take $1 million dollars for my professional baseball experience.  I am proud I made good and that I was one of the best of them in my day.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

Sunday then went to bat for the unquestioned integrity of the game:

“Baseball is the one sport in this country upon which the gamblers have not been able to get their crooked claws.

“There isn’t the same disgrace attached to a professional baseball player that attends other professional athletes.  The gambler tried for 30 years to get control, but the men behind the game have stood firm and true.  Baseball has stood the test.  It is a pure, clean, wholesome game, and there is no disgrace to any man today for playing professional baseball.”

Sunday also said that after he “converted in 1886,” he discovered that:

“The club owners, the fans generally, and the players themselves will respect a man all the more for living a clean, honest life.”

While he said he rarely had time anymore to attend games, Sunday said he continued to follow the game closely and read the sports page every day.

Asked to name his all-time team, Sunday said:

“I would put (Cap) Anson on first base and make him captain, and I would have to find a place for Mike Kelly and John ClarksonGeorge Gore, Charlie Bennett, Kid Nichols, Amos Rusie, John Ward, Clark Griffith and others were all good men.”

Sunday returned his attention to his “Idol,” Anson:

“For every day in the season, for every occasion that might arise, I believe old Cap Anson was the best batsman the game ever knew.  Just look at that grand record of his…He could hit anything.  He used an extremely heavy bat…it used to do our hearts good to hear the crack when old ‘Cap’ Anson met the ball squarely.”

Sunday's "idol" "Cap" Anson

Sunday’s “idol” “Cap” Anson

The preacher then told the reporter about his career:

“My first professional contract (in 1883 with the Chicago White Stockings) called for $60 a month.  That was a windfall for me in those days, too.  When I quit baseball (in 1890) my salary was $500 a month.  The first two years I only got in a few games and was used more as a utility man.

“As a batter I averaged from .240 to .275 (Sunday’s averages actually ranged from .222 to .291) and that was fair in those days.”

Billy Sunday

Billy Sunday

He also recounted the visit received after he secured his release from the Philadelphia Phillies in 1890 in order to take a position with the Y.M.C.A. in Chicago:

“(On the day the release was announced) I was leading a class in a men’s noonday meeting in the Chicago Y.M.C.A., when Jim Hart, president of the Chicago club, walked in, and after the meeting laid down a contract on that old pulpit.  It called for seven month’s salary at $500 a month, with one month’s salary in advance.

Jim Hart

Jim Hart

“Thirty-five hundred dollars and me almost broke with a wife and a baby to support.  It was a horrible temptation, especially since I loved to play baseball.  The next morning I sent Mr. Hart my refusal of his terms.  I accepted a position for the year with the Y.M.C.A. at $83 a month.”

At the peak of his career as an evangelist in the early teens, it was reported that Sunday earned around $800 per day from the pulpit—roughly the annual salary of the average American worker.

Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #16

21 Oct

Pirates Slump, 1921

The first place Pittsburgh Pirates were preparing for a doubleheader with the New York Giants on August 24, 1921, when the team took time out to pose for a photo.  The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“Someone happened to mention, as the photographer moved away, that for a whole team to watch the little birdie at once was a jinx.”

The team promptly went out and dropped the doubleheader, then lost three more to the Giants.  The paper said of the five straight losses:

“It doesn’t prove the jinx exists.  But it does prove that to imbue a man or a team of men, with the idea that they can’t win a ballgame generally means that they won’t win.  For their pep and enthusiasm has been stolen.”

The Pirates finished second, four games behind the Giants.

Anson’s All-Time Team, 1918

While visiting St. Paul, Minnesota in the summer of 1918, Cap Anson was asked by a reporter for The Associated Press to name his all-time all-star team.  The reporter said the team was most “notable for including in its makeup not one” current player:

"Cap" Anson

                        “Cap” Anson

“According to Captain Anson, at  least four outfielders of old times are better than (Ty) Cobb or (Tris) Speaker and (John) Clarkson, (Amos) Rusie, and (Jim) McCormick, he thinks were better pitchers than (Grover Cleveland)  Alexander  or (Walter) Johnson.  His line-up would be:

Catchers—William “Buck” Ewing and Mike “King” Kelly

Pitchers—Amos Rusie, John Clarkson, and Jim McCormick

First Base—Captain Anson, himself

Second Base—Fred Pfeffer

Third Base—Ned Williamson

Shortstop—Ross Barnes

Outfielders—Bill Lange, George Gore, Jimmy Ryan and Hugh Duffy

Cy Young’s Five Rules, 1907

Forty-year-old Cy Young won 21 games for the Boston Americans in 1907 and his longevity became a popular topic of newspaper copy until he pitched his final major league game four years later.

Cy Young

                                             Cy Young

During that 1907 season he gave a reporter for The Boston Post his advice for young players:

“(T)o the young player who seeks his advice about getting in condition and being able to stay in the game as long as the veteran himself, Cy lays down a few simple rules, which are as follows:

  1.  Live a temperate life
  2. Don’t abuse yourself if you want to attain success
  3. Don’t try to bait the umpires; abusing the arbitrators does a player no good and harms him in the eyes of the umpires, players and public in general
  4. Play the game for all you are worth at all times
  5. Render faithful service to your employers

Regarding his “rule” about umpires, Young said:

“What’s the use in kicking?  The umpire won’t change his decision, and kicking will give him another chance to get back at you for your silly abuse.”

Grantland Rice’s “All-Time All-Star Round up”

10 Aug

In December of 1917, thirty-eight-year-old sportswriter Grantland Rice of The New York Tribune enlisted in the army–he spent fourteen months in Europe.  Before he left he laid out the case, over two weeks, for an all-time all-star team in the pages of the paper:

“As we expect to be held to a restricted output very shortly, due to the exigencies and demands of the artillery game, this seemed to be a fairly fitting period to unfold the results.”

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice

Rice said the selections were “not solely from our own limited observation, extending over a period of some eighteen or twenty years,” but included input from players, managers and sportswriters, including  “such veterans” as Frank Bancroft and Clark Griffith, and baseball writers Joe Vila of The New York Sun, Bill Hanna of The New York Herald and Sam Crane, the former major league infielder turned sportswriter of The New York Journal.

Rice said only one of the nine selections “(S)eems to rest in doubt.  The others were almost unanimously backed.”

The selections:

Pitcher:  Christy Mathewson

A. G. Spalding, John (Montgomery) Ward, Larry Corcoran, Charley Radbourn, John Clarkson, (Thomas) Toad Ramsey, Tim Keefe, Bill Hoffer, Amos Rusie, (Mordecai) Miner Brown, Addie Joss, Ed Walsh–the array is almost endless.

“In the matter of physical stamina, Cy Young has outclassed the field.  Cy won more games than almost any others ever pitched.

“(But) For all the pitching mixtures and ingredients, stamina, steadiness, brilliancy, brains, control, speed, curves, coolness, courage, is generally agreed that no man has ever yet surpassed Christy Mathewson…there has never been another who had more brains or as fine control.”

 

[…]

“It might be argued that Radbourn or (Walter) Johnson or (Grover Cleveland) Alexander was a greater pitcher than Mathewson.

But we’ll string with Matty against the field.”

Radbourn was the second choice.  Bancroft said:

“Radbourn was more like Mathewson than any pitcher I ever saw.  I mean by that, that like Matty, he depended largely upon brains and courage and control, like Matty he had fine speed and the rest of it.  Radbourn was a great pitcher, the best of the old school beyond any doubt.”

Catcher:  William “Buck” Ewing

“Here we come to a long array—Frank (Silver) Flint, Charley Bennett, (Charles “Chief”) Zimmer, (James “Deacon”) McGuire, (Wilbert) Robinson, (Marty) Bergen(Johnny) Kling, (Roger) Bresnahan and various others.

“But the bulk of the votes went to Buck Ewing.”

Buck Ewing

Buck Ewing

[…]

“Wherein did Ewing excel?

“He was a great mechanical catcher.  He had a wonderful arm and no man was surer of the bat…he had a keen brain, uncanny judgment, and those who worked with him say that he had no rival at diagnosing the  weakness of opposing batsman, or at handling his pitchers with rare skill.”

Kling was the second choice:

“Kling was fairly close…a fine thrower, hard hitter, and brilliant strategist…But as brilliant as Kling was over a span of years, we found no one who placed him over the immortal Buck.”

1B Fred Tenney

First Base was the one position with “the greatest difference of opinion,” among Rice and the others:

“From Charlie Comiskey to George Sisler is a long gap—and in that gap it seems that no one man has ever risen to undisputed heights… There are logical arguments to be offered that Hal Chase or Frank Chance should displace Fred Tenney at first.

But in the way of batting and fielding records Tenney wins….Of the present array, George Sisler is the one who has the best chance of replacing Tenney.”

2B Eddie Collins

 “There was no great argument about second base.

“The vote was almost unanimous.

“From the days of Ross Barnes, a great hitter and a good second baseman on through 1917, the game has known many stars.  But for all-around ability the game has known but one Eddie Collins.”

Rice said the competition was between Collins, Napoleon Lajoie and Johnny Evers:

“Of these Lajoie was the greatest hitter and most graceful workman.

“Of these Evers was the greatest fighter and the more eternally mentally alert.

“But for batting and base running, fielding skill, speed and the entire combination, Collins was voted on top.”

 SS Honus Wagner

“Here, with possibly one exception, is the easiest pick of the lot.  The game has been replete with star shortstops with George Wright in 1875 to (Walter “Rabbit”) Maranville, (George “Buck”) Weaver…There were (Jack) Glasscock and (John Montgomery) Ward, (Hardy) Richards0n, (Hugh) Jennings, (Herman)Long, (Joe) Tinker and (Jack) Barry.

“But there has been only one Hans Wagner.”

Honus Wagner

Honus Wagner

Jennings and Long were rated second and third,  “But, with the entire list  considered there is no question but that Wagner stands at the top.”

3B Jimmy Collins

Rice said:

“From the days of (Ned) Williamson(Jerry) Denny, and (Ezra) Sutton, over thirty years ago, great third basemen have only appeared at widely separated intervals.

“There have been fewer great third basemen in baseball than at any other position, for there have been periods when five or six years would pass without an undoubted star.”

The final decision came down to “John McGraw vs. Jimmy Collins.”  McGraw was “a great hitter, a fine bunter and a star base runner,” while “Collins was a marvel and a marvel over a long stretch…he was good enough to carve out a .330 or a .340 clip (and) when it came to infield play at third he certainly had no superior…So taking his combined fielding and batting ability against that of McGraw and Collins wins the place.  McGraw was a trifle his superior on the attack. But as a fielder there was no great comparison, Collins leading by a number of strides.”

 

OF Ty Cobb

“The supply here is overwhelming…Yet the remarkable part is that when we offered our selection to a jury of old players, managers and veteran scribes there was hardly a dissenting vote.”

[…]

“Number one answers itself.  A man who can lead the league nine years in succession at bat.

“A man who can lead his league at bat in ten out of eleven seasons.

“A man who can run up the record for base hits and runs scored in a year—also runs driven in.

“Well, the name Ty Cobb answers the rest of it.”

OF Tris Speaker

 “The man who gives Cobb the hardest battle is Tris Speaker.  Veteran observers like Clark Griffith all say that Speaker is the greatest defensive outfielder baseball has ever exploited…Speaker can cover more ground before a ball is pitched than any man.  And if he guesses incorrectly, which he seldom does, he can go a mile to retrieve his error in judgment…And to this impressive defensive strength must be added the fact he is a powerful hitter, not only a normal .350 man, but one who can tear the hide off the ball for extra bases.”

Tris Speaker "hardest hit"

Tris Speaker 

OF “Wee Willie” Keeler

Mike Kelly and Joe KelleyJimmy Sheckard and Fred Clarke—the slugging (Ed) Delehanty—the rare Bill LangeBilly Hamilton.

“The remaining list is a great one, but how can Wee Willie Keeler be put aside?

“Ask Joe Kelley, or John McGraw, or others who played with Keeler and who remember his work.

“Keeler was one of the most scientific batsmen that ever chopped a timely single over third or first…And Keeler was also a great defensive outfielder, a fine ground coverer—a great thrower—a star in every department of play.

“Mike Kelly was a marvel, more of an all-around sensation, but those who watched the work of both figure Keeler on top.”

Rice said of the nine selections:

“The above is the verdict arrived at after discussions with managers, players and writers who have seen a big section of the long parade, and who are therefore able to compare the stars of today with the best men of forgotten years.

“Out of the thousands of fine players who have made up the roll call of the game since 1870 it would seem impossible to pick nine men and award them the olive wreath.  In several instances the margin among three or four is slight.

“But as far a s deductions, observations, records and opinions go, the cast named isn’t very far away from an all-time all-star round up, picked for ability, stamina, brains, aggressiveness and team value.

“If it doesn’t stick, just what name from above could you drop?”

“People who saw the Sport are still Laughing”

17 Dec

High expectations came with George W. “Big Mike” Mahoney to his hometown Boston Beaneaters in 1897.

A baseball, track and football star at Georgetown University—he played football until the University disbanded the team after his backfield mate George “Shorty” Bahen—a foot shorter than Mahoney– died from injuries sustained during the team’s Thanksgiving Day game against Columbia in 1894.

George "Big Mike" Mahoney

George “Big Mike” Mahoney

In 1895, he gained notice for his pitching after striking out 13 batters in a game with Yale.

The following year, The Philadelphia Times said:

“He has won enviable renown as a pitcher, where his remarkable strength, speed and ability to curve have made him a very formidable player.  He has also played football, where his remarkable physique, weight and strength have stood him in good stead.  One would imagine that his weight—236 pounds—would prevent his running with any remarkable speed, but it is so distributed—he being probably the largest athlete in the college world, measuring six feet five—that it is little of an encumbrance to him.”

In the spring of 1897, it was rumored that Mahoney would not return to Georgetown and instead sign with Boston.  The Philadelphia Inquirer said:

“(I)t is understood that he will play professionally with the Boston league team.  Mahoney is considered a wonderful pitcher, as well as being a fine catcher and first baseman.”

Shortly after signing with the Beaneaters, The Washington Evening Times said Mahoney had been offered the opportunity to take up yet another sport:

“(Mahoney) has a chance to shine pugilistically.  En route to Pittsburgh Sunday the Bostons had Bob Fitzsimmons for a traveling companion.  Fitz was smitten with Mahoney’s size, and offered to take him in charge and coach him into a high-class heavyweight.”

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Bob Fitzsimmons-wanted to train Mahoney for the ring.

Mahoney turned down the offer.

On May 18 Boston was in Chicago; trailing the Colts 9 to 5 in the eighth inning, Mahoney made his big league debut on the mound for the Beaneaters.

The Colts and The Chicago Daily News were not kind to the rookie:

“Mr. Mahoney, the largest man seen in the League for many moons, made his debut in professional ball at the west Side Grounds yesterday.  He now wishes he had tarried at his Georgetown school.  The reception given Mr. Mahoney was one of the warmest ever seen around these districts since the year 1, and the people who saw the sport are still laughing.

“Mr. Mahoney is 6 feet 5 or more, and one of the finest looking men imaginable.  Small girls, who admire big men, could be heard squeaking, ‘Isn’t he cute?’ all of the stand.  He has been loafing around the park during the present series, doing nothing but taking life easy, and the multitude were really getting inquisitive as to who he was and what right he had to live.

“He went into the fray at a rather inauspicious time.  The Colts had just demolished (Ted) Lewis and had biffed fat (Jack) Stivetts in the solar plexus.  When Mr. Mahoney’s giant frame loomed up there was a shout of laughter, then a pause of dread lest the monster should prove strong and speedy in proportion to his fearful size.

“He threw a ball:  (Bill) Dahlen hit it.  He threw another: (Bill) Lange hit it.  He threw one more: (Walter) Thornton hit it.  And the picnic might have gone on had not the long man climbed eleven feet higher and pulled down a bounding ball (Mahoney had jumped high to rob Colts catcher Tim Donahue of a hit up the middle)”

Mahoney faced seven batters, allowed two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out one.

Mahoney

Mahoney

The Daily News ended the ridicule by allowing that Mahoney might, someday, be a good pitcher:

“The fate of Mr. Mahoney is no new experience for a young pitcher.  Many a man who has afterward been a star has been a horrible fizzle on his first appearance, while many a man who has panned out no good on earth has made a glorious debut.  Thornton was a conspicuous success on his initial day, and has been nothing in the way of box work since.  (Clark) Griffith did not do very well the first tie he pitched for (Cap) Anson, and he is the best of all nowadays.  Mr. Mahoney, if given a fair show, may yet become a (Amos) Rusie.”

Mahoney never received “a fair show.”  He never pitched in another major league game.  He caught one game for Boston, and went 1 for 2 with an RBI, but was released in July of 1897.  Mahoney appeared in two games for the St. Louis Browns the following season—he was 1 for 7 and committed one error.  For his four-game big league career he hit .111 and posted an 18.00 ERA.

After one more season playing for several East Coast minor league teams, Mahoney returned to Boston where he became a police officer; he died there in 1940.

“’Amos, old Boy, don’t Forget the left foot Racket.’

12 Dec

Long after “Dasher” Troy’s last professional game in 1888, he remained a good source of quotes for sportswriters; at the Polo Grounds, or after 1900, at his Manhattan tavern.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

When he wrote a series of columns for “Baseball Magazine” in 1915 the magazine said about him:

“There was a day when John (Dasher) Troy was one of the bright lights of the diamond.  Advancing age has long since driven him from his favorite haunts. But, though, as he admits, he has “had his day and that day is a long time past,” still he has ‘seen more baseball games than any other player in the country,’ and remained throughout a close student and observer of the game.”

And, humility was not his strong suit.

Four years before he was given credit for fixing Hughie Jennings broken nose, Troy took credit for another player’s success.

After Amos Rusie’s great 1894 season—36-13, 2.78 ERA–Troy told The New York Sun:

“Very few people know just what made the big pitcher so effective last season, but can explain it… (Rusie) had a wrinkle last season that was of my own invention…I had noticed that every League batsman, barring one or two like (Ed) Delehanty(Dan) Brouthers, and a few more, stepped back from the plate whenever Amos pitched a fast ball.  So I went to the big fellow one day and said:

“’Amos, when you see a batter’s left foot—providing he is a right-handed hitter—move back a trifle, just drive that fast straight ball or your outshoot, over the outside corner of the plate, and you’ll find how easy it is to fool these ducks.  Just try it and see if I ain’t right.’

Amos Rusie

Amos Rusie

“Well, Amos did just as I told him the next game he pitched, and he was laughing in his sleeve.  The minute he saw a batter’s left foot move back, he grinned all over.  Then he let ‘er go.  The ball whistled like a small cyclone up to and over the outside corner of the plate, and the batter made such a wild stab at it that the crowd roared.  But nobody knew what the wrinkle was.

“By and by, when I saw that Amos had mastered the trick to perfection, I thought it was time to gamble a little on it.  So I just took a seat back of the home plate among a lot of know-alls and watched the batter’s feet closely.  Whenever I saw a left foot move back I just took out my coin and yelled:

“’Three to one this duck doesn’t make a hit!’

“There were lots of fellows around me who would take up the short end, and as a result I had a good thing on hand right along.  But the cinch came when the Bostons came over here on August 31 to play off a tie game with the New Yorks.  There were nearly 20,000 people on the Polo Grounds, and Amos was slated to pitch.  He was as fit as a fiddle, and just before the battle began I leaned over the grandstand and whispered to him:

“’Amos, old boy, don’t forget the left foot racket.’

“He said, ‘All right,’ and then he began his work.  Every one of the Bostons stepped back from the plate—even (Hugh) Duffy, (Tommy) McCarthy and (Tommy) Tucker.  Amos just grinned, and sent that ball over the corner until the champions were blinded.   Laid three to one against each Boston batter and during the entire game the champs made but five scattered singles.”

The Box Score

The Box Score

Twenty years later, in one of the columns he wrote for “Baseball Magazine,” Troy again took credit for Rusie’s performance in the Boston game, but embellished the details further:

“There were a lot of my friends there that day trying to show me, so they said how much I knew about the game. So I thought I would take a look at my old friend, Amos Rusie, who was pitching for the Giants.  He never had more speed, and his inshoot was working fine on the inside corner of the plate… I sent one of my workmen down to Amos on the players’ bench with a note.   In this note I told him not to pitch his inshoot, that nearly every one of the Boston Club was pulling his left foot back from the plate, and that the batter could not hit a ball out of the diamond if he would put them low and over the plate.

“Hugh Duffy was the first man up for the next inning, and he hit a slow grounder to the first baseman; the second batter hitting to the second baseman, and the third to the third baseman. When Amos was walking to the bench he looked up toward the bar on the grandstand, which was behind the catcher at the back of the stand, and he had a big broad smile on his face. Any player who pulled his left foot back, or left-hander who pulled his right foot back, never hit Amos very hard after that.”

There’s no record of Rusie having credited Troy as the reason for his greatest season.

Troy remained a popular figure in New York baseball circles, and a popular story teller, until his death in 1938.

 

Hughie Jennings’ “Doctor”

10 Dec

On October 6, 1898, Hughie Jennings, who, for the fifth straight season was the National League’s leading hits batsman, faced Jouett Meekin, the New York Giants’ notoriously wild pitcher —Meekin hit 89 batters in nine major league seasons and walked 1056 while striking out 901.

Hughie Jennings

Hughie Jennings

The New York Times said:

“Meekin began the game by hitting (John) McGraw on the head.  It was only a glancing blow, however.  Jennings followed McGraw, and the first ball pitched struck him on the nose, breaking it.  Jennings, after he was hit, staggered and then fell.  It was a swift in-curve, and the players on both teams rushed to the plate thinking he had been fatally injured”

The concern was warranted.  In June of 1897 Jennings was hit in the head with a pitch thrown by Meekin’s’ teammate Amos Rusie during the first inning of a game.  While the Rusie beaning was serious, it was likely not as serious as some sources claim–it has been said he was unconscious for three or four days, and near death.  These claims are belied by contemporary news reports, as early as the next day that said, while serious, the injury was neither life-threatening nor caused a days-long coma.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings' beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O'Day is the umpire.

A newspaper rendering of Jennings’ beaning by Rusie. The catcher is Jack Warner, Hank O’Day is the umpire.

The New York Sun:

“Last night the doctor said he was suffering from a slight concussion of the brain and a temporary paralysis of the right arm, but he declared his injuries would not prove serious and that Jennings would be able to play again in a few days.”

Jennings was back in the Orioles lineup in a week.

Still, there was reason for concern, Jennings had been hit by nearly 200 pitches since 1894, and according to The Sun, “his face was covered in blood.”  The previous season he had “pluckily continued in the game” after the Rusie beaning, until the second inning; this time he was immediately taken to the clubhouse.

It was there that his broken nose was attended to in an unusual way.

Enter John Joseph “Dasher” Troy, a major league infielder in 1880s, a member of the 1884 American Association champion New York Metropolitans.

Dasher Troy

Dasher Troy

In 1891, Troy had been granted a liquor concession, “running the bar under the grandstand” at the Polo Grounds.  Three years later The Sun said Giants owner Edward Talcott “quietly ousted Troy,” after the former player’s “attack on a grandstand gatekeeper and his threatened attack on Mr. Talcott.”

Despite being ousted from the business, Troy remained a fixture at Giants games—and would eventually reclaim the business after Talcott sold his interest in the Giants to Andrew Friedman, running it until 1900.

The New York Telegraph picks up the story:

“(Troy) was at the Polo Grounds when Jennings, of the Baltimores, had his nose broken by a pitched ball. Jennings was assisted to the clubhouse and a physician summoned.  The ‘Dasher’ followed in after the doctor, and pushing the latter aside, said to Jennings:

“‘Hughie, will you let me fix that for you?’

“Hughie looked embarrassed and said:

‘Yes, Dash, but here’s the doctor.’

“’Oh, to hell with him,’ answered Johnny, with his usual impetuosity.  “I can fix that nose in two minutes.  I have fixed noses before, and broken ‘em too,’ said Troy as he threw out his chest and glanced severely at the doctor.

“’Here boy, go out and get me a couple of pebbles.’

“The (doctor) brought back two small stones, and Troy put one on each side of Jennings’ injured nasal organ, and began to press.  The damaged nose was one sided, the cartilage being badly out of place.  Jennings said he could feel the grating as Troy gradually pressed on the stones and, sure enough, when the pebbles were removed the nose was as straight as it ever was.

“’There,’ said Troy, looking again fiercely at the doctor, ‘could you do better that that?  You doctors make me tired.’

“The doctor, however, when he had collected himself, said Jennings had better go to a hospital for further treatment, apparently not being fully satisfied with Troy’s treatment, or possibly his winning ways.

“Jennings did not follow the doctor’s advice that night, but (the following day) he went to Mt. Sinai Hospital.  A physician then examined the injured nose, felt of it carefully and said:

“’There is nothing out of place there.  Who set it for you?’

“’Oh, some doctor up at the Polo grounds,’ answered Jennings.

“’Well, said the hospital physician, ‘I never saw a cleaner or better piece of work in my life.”

Regardless of having his nose successfully fixed by Troy, Jennings’ all-time record for being by pitches 287 times took a toll.  He had turned 30 years-old just a month before the 1888 broken nose, but only played more than 100 games  once more—in 1900—and was, essentially finished as a player by 1902.

Another story about Jennings’ “doctor” Dasher Troy on Friday